FuturArc Interview

May-Jun 2015


Professor and Chair, Department of Urban Planning and Design,
Graduate School of Design, Harvard University

by Dr Nirmal Kishnani

Rahul Mehrotra is an architect, urbanist and educator. He is founder principal of RMA Architects, Mumbai, as well as professor and chair of urban planning and design, at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. He has designed projects that range from recycling urban land and master planning in Mumbai to the design of art spaces, boutiques, weekend houses, factories, social institutes and office buildings across India; in the process engaging diverse issues, multiple constituencies and varying scales: from interior design and architecture to urban design, conservation and planning. He has also written and lectured extensively on issues to do with architecture, conservation and urban planning in Mumbai and India. FuturArc editor-in-chief Dr Nirmal Kishnani caught up with him in the midst of hectic schedule shuttling between Mumbai and Boston.

NK: What is “impatient capital”, a phrase you use often in your reflections on the Asian city?
RM: Capital is intrinsically impatient. What I refer to when describing Asian cities is the architecture of impatient capital. After economic liberalisation of the ‘90s in India and more generally neo-liberal policies around the world, global capital as it lands in different locations causes all sorts of disruptions. Buildings are built very quickly, often with no sensitivity to the local building or urban fabric. When capital arrives, it has to manifest itself because it has to realise its value very quickly. Indian politicians allude to Shanghai, Singapore, Dubai for this reason—landscapes that allow the frictionless arrival of capital. The words they use include efficiency of systems that work—these are really metaphors of how you can attract capital and make its manifestation frictionless. Here buildings are built very quickly and often their designs are driven by vendors rather than the architects because they can deliver on the promise of speed. Architects are left tweaking the building in little ways because there’s very little left to do—thus skyscrapers that twist and do all sorts of acrobatics within the confines of their predetermined skins!

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